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A father’s love helps one day at a time as son braves rehab

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Updated: June 17, 2013 10:41AM

‘I got sunshine,” Tim Perteete sings, and his 17-year-old son joins in, with a voice that croaks a little, “on a cloudy day.”

“When it’s cold outside, I got the month of May. I guess you’ll say what can make me feel this way?”

DeVontae Joe-Perteete sings the harmony to the Temptations song “My Girl” from a common room at the Ronald McDonald House in Chicago where the family lives and celebrated Father’s Day this year.

DeVontae is still recuperating at the Rehab Institute of Chicago, some 90 miles from his home in Rockford where he suffered a traumatic brain injury on May 11, 2012, at the age of 16. News accounts cast doubt on his survival after he’d been a victim of street violence. He was shot in the head, with “life threatening” injuries. His parents clung to hope their good boy would somehow pull through.

DeVontae made it, but he still has a long way still to go. He can’t walk yet or even swallow.

He has the love of his mother, Tina Joe, 48, who never doubted he’d make it, and his father, who is now living out an instinct most parents feel in their bones.

They would do absolutely anything for their child.

“He’s taught me a lot just about love,” said Tim, 55, choking up, “just about how you love your kids, and what you’d do for them, unconditionally, you just don’t want to give up. You hate to give up.”

Tim always felt he’d do whatever was necessary for his children but didn’t expect he’d have to show it like this.

“He just really showed me something by his will and his fight to live that I felt like I would short him if I didn’t do the best I could and give him what he needs to come back — the patience, the love, the care,” he said.

“This is what I’m doing until it’s done.”

Tim traveled to spend the weekend with his son, as he does every Saturday to Tuesday. On weekdays, he has to stay in Rockford where he’s a barber for work but on weekends focuses on his youngest son.

DeVontae spent so much time with his dad at the shop as a child, that by 7, DeVontae was cutting his father’s hair, to the amazement of passersby. He’d learned to tightly clip his dad’s head. He hasn’t yet learned fades.

“We was getting to that. We still going to get to do that too, right?” Tim asks his son. “We’re going to finish that job.”

Tim coaches his son, keeps up his spirits.

Together, they watch basketball and reruns of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” DeVontae gets a kick out of Carlton Banks, the uptight cousin of Will Smith’s character from the ’90s sitcom.

Wearing matching Derrick Rose T-shirts Sunday, father and son talk basketball.

Tim teases his son about racing Rose out of rehab. They went in around the same time.

DeVontae, the baby of the family, reaches constantly for his father’s hand with his right hand.

His left arm rests in his lap, where one of his parents has carefully placed it. His legs remain still, though his father constantly watches him for movement, for tiny twitches that mean healing. His mother and father take turns wiping his mouth.

When DeVontae struggles to gets his words out, his father reminds him, “You got to put some air in there — I want to hear it!”

This Father’s Day, DeVontae did some speech therapy at the Rehab Institute. He joins his family at the Ronald McDonald house as they eat lunch on the balcony, though he still needs a feeding tube.

He took a nap to recharge as did his father, “between snores,” Tim says.

“I don’t snore, you snore!” his son retorts.

Then the family takes a walk back to the Rehab Institute on a beautiful Sunday, hatched plans to sit in a nearby park. Maybe later they’ll watch some TV, some playoff basketball or more “Fresh Prince.”

DeVontae looks more like his dad than his mom, same wide, brown eyes, similarly shaped faces.

“I look better!” the son tells his father.

The thing DeVontae likes best about his dad?

“How funny he is.”

And the worst?


Before he was hurt, DeVontae wrestled on the high school team. He kept a journal. He wrote rap lyrics about his life and performed them. He won a rap contest as a 10-year-old.

His rapper name: “Devastate.”

After DeVontae was injured — and then stabilized — he needed extensive rehabilitation. He spent about nine months in Chicago at the Rehab Institute and with the Almost Home program. He went home in late January to continue his recovery. Recently, though, he started making such fast progress, his family returned him to the Rehab Institute to keep the momentum going. This time, his stay depends on how much he learns.

DeVontae wants to go to college. His family hopes to send him back to school in the fall; a teacher visits to help him, his mom also tutors him so he doesn’t lose too much school.

He hopes to walk. Right now, he can manage, with help, to stand, because physically his body is sound. He needs, as his father says, to reconnect that part of his brain to the muscles people use to walk. He’s also learned to fist-bump visitors.

His next goal: To go home and eat. The boy who hasn’t had a solid meal in more than a year dreams of cheeseburgers from Steak ’n’ Shake. First, he has to learn again how to swallow.

DeVontae also works on his speech.

Here’s the first thing he said when he started talking again, months after he was hurt and two weeks after returning home from rehab in Chicago: “Amen.”

After he found his voice again, he prayed as he’d been raised to do.

Here’s who he prays for: “My family,” whom he leads in The Lord’s Prayer at night, “and the hungry and homeless.”

DeVontae knows God is on his side, so here’s what father and son sang on Sunday — together — when his father stretches out his son’s limbs to keep them pliant:

“My God is Awesome, Keeper of the whole world/

Ruler of Salvation, Forever He shall reign/

My God Is Awesome/

Awesome, Awesome, Awesome.”

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